Adding to your family as a result of a pregnancy should be a joyful time. However, for too many parents, especially new mothers, having a baby and caring for that new child is fraught with difficulties at work. These difficulties may include receiving less than all the family leave the law allows, returning to a reduced role after family leave ends, a failure to accommodate breastfeeding, or even termination. All of these things are potentially violations of state and/or federal law so, if any of them have happened to you, do not delay in contacting a knowledgeable New Jersey family leave lawyer.
Earlier this year, a new development occurred in a case we blogged about two years ago. Back in 2020, the Attorney General’s Office had initiated proceedings against a Hudson County home goods company on the basis of discrimination and retaliation.
To recap the case, the worker was a marketing director who became pregnant in 2017. In early 2018, she notified her employer that she planned to take several months off, using federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to recover from giving birth and New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) leave to care for her new baby.
The employer sent the director a letter informing her that she could not take the amount of leave she had requested because both FMLA and NJFLA leave ran concurrently. This interpretation was incorrect, as federal law allows new mothers to use FMLA leave for their own disabling condition (“recovery from childbirth”) and New Jersey law allows them to take NJFLA leave to care for their new babies without the former reducing the availability of the latter.
Nevertheless, the employer gave the director a return-to-work date of June 18 (which was earlier than what the director sought) and told her that if she didn’t return by that date, the employer would consider that to be the director’s resignation.
Ultimately, the employee returned in July but the employer allegedly “retaliated against her in multiple ways.” The retaliation the employer inflicted on the director included “diminishing her role in the company,” “excluding her from projects and meetings she had previously been involved in,” and firing her three months after she returned to work “when she refused to take a two-week international business trip to India and China while she was breastfeeding her baby,” according to the complaint.
A Settlement and a Substantial Sum
The newest development is that in March, the employer agreed to settle the case. The monetary sum the woman received is an illustration of how these kinds of cases can yield more than just damages for lost wages. In this settlement, the company agreed to pay the director $50,000 for lost wages (less “appropriate withholdings and deductions.”) The settlement also required that the employer pay the woman $145,000 for a combination of emotional damages, medical expense reimbursement, and punitive damages under the NJFLA.
The Attorney General’s Office was clear about the extent to which New Jersey law protects expectant and new parents, as well as employers’ obligations to be aware of (and follow) those rules regarding family leave. “New Jersey law protects the rights of new parents during those early days when infants require so much care. Employers should make certain they understand family leave protections under both state and federal law. We take these protections seriously, and will hold accountable employers who violate the rights of their workers,” the Attorney General said in a press release.
Additionally, the head of the Division on Civil Rights highlighted the right of new mothers not to be set back at work simply because they had a baby and/or are breastfeeding that child. “No parent should be forced to choose between their job and caring for or breastfeeding their child. And it is all too common for mothers, in particular, to be sidelined at work after they return from leave. That is illegal. New Jersey law protects a parent’s right to take leave to care for a newborn child and to return to the same position after leave. It also protects a parent’s right to breastfeed a child,” the director said.
Discrimination at work against new parents, especially new mothers, remains regrettably common. Know that, if it happens to you, the law in this state has options in terms of receiving compensation for the harm you endured. Reach out today to contact the knowledgeable New Jersey family leave attorneys at Phillips & Associates to discuss your case. We’ve helped many parents just like you and we’re ready to get started on your case. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.